Biting is a normal behaviour in toddlers and early childhood. Toddlers bite for different reasons but particularly as a way to express their feelings and to show strong emotions such as frustration and anger and a need to feel in control.
Biting usually occurs before children have developed the ability to use words and their language to express important feelings, so as language improves, biting will usually lessen.
Children in the early years do not generally hurt others on purpose and need to learn what gentle means. If your child does bite, parents need to remember to take control of their feelings and avoid being angry when your child is upset, instead speaking calmly but firmly.
Remember you are not alone, biting is particularly common in toddlers and there are things parents can do to eliminate the behaviour.
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Dr Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist offers parents advice on what to do when toddlers bite to ensure you react in a calm and constructive manner.
- Stay calm even when feeling embarrassed, annoyed and worried.
- Use terminating instructions to address the behaviour.
- Act immediately to reflect the importance of what has happened.
- Have a discussion post incident
• Stay calm. While it is natural to let emotion take over, how you handle behaviour such as biting will help to avoid any future incidents. While you may feel embarrassed, annoyed and worried, taking a breath and responding in a constructive way in a calm manner will be beneficial to your child learning about appropriate behaviour.
• Terminating instructions. One of the most common errors parents make is how they give instructions to children. It is best to use terminating instructions when asking a child to stop doing something and address inconsiderate behaviour. For example you could say ‘No, biting hurts. We don’t bite people. Use your gentle touch.’
• Act immediately. Quick action is key to reflect the importance of what has happened. As soon as you notice challenging behaviour particularly biting or hitting, stop what you are doing and gain your child’s attention by saying their name and getting on their level. Begin by asking ‘What is the rule about this?’ while acknowledging and affirming their feelings. Once you have their attention, firmly state what you want your child to do, such as ‘You need to keep your hands to yourself.’
• Have a discussion. Having a calm conversation about what has happened and what could have been done differently. This allows your child to understand when they make mistakes they are able to make things right and learn to take responsibility for their actions. Corrective feedback should be supportive and focus on the behaviour not the child. For example, you could say ‘You shouldn’t bite’ as opposed to ‘You are naughty’ so that you’re correcting the behaviour and not making a negative statement about your child. By offering feedback at the time of the negative behaviour you give your child the opportunity and learning experience to associate the feedback with the behaviour.
While biting is often an embarrassing behaviour in your child, it is important to know that it is normal and can be overcome with constructive methods to respond. By having a plan of how to react, you will feel more in charge while staying polite and specific when giving instructions.
For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. – www.kidsandco.com.au
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